What the James Bond Books Meant to Me
For this voracious young reader, Ian Fleming's spy novels were a thrilling escape—and a significant influence.
Casino Royale was the first book I ever read, from front to back, all in one sitting.
I read a lot as a kid. Everything in sight. I wasn’t overly picky, as there just had to be words on a page. When we were younger, my parents drove my older sister, my younger brother, and me to the library, so we had a pretty good selection of books to choose from.
I read comic books, such as Batman, Superman and Archie, and actually bought used copies at rummage sales. I read the cereal boxes as I ate my corn flakes. There was always a contest or mail-in offer on the package. We would cut the tops off of the cereal boxes for proof of purchase and my mother would tape four quarters on a piece of paper. We then dropped the envelope into a mailbox and would receive a cheap game or toy for us three kids to fight over a few weeks later. It was never as big in real life as it looked on the pacakge. Times have changed now, however, and the only form of text on today’s cereal boxes are the ingredients, and the only one I pay attention to is the fibre.
For roughly three years of my life, from 11 to 14 years old, I would read the newspaper as I trudged from door-to-door on my paper route. I remember dodging hydro poles and fire hydrants without looking where I was going, keeping up on politics, news and sports. I read pretty much everything but my school textbooks.
Bedtime was for pleasure reading. I went through a James Bond phase. They were pretty easy reads (about 200 pages) and much better than the movies, which have always been a letdown for me. But I had never read a book completely through in one night before.
It was band practice night at the Salvation Army, during the winter of 1965, and they were located next door to my parents’ house. They would go on for hours and break up at around 10 o’clock. Like living next to a set of railway tracks, or an airport, I got used to it, and I remember that night vividly. They were on their third run through of a rousing rendition of “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus” and getting lost in a delicious spy thriller was a great way to shut out the booming bass drum from the Sally Ann.
I hunkered down in my homemade sheets. My mom had sewn together cotton sugar sacks for our bedding and mine still had a big faded Lantic sugar logo on the bottom left panel. My pile of thin blankets kept me warm not by their thickness but by their sheer numbers. I adjusted my Toronto Maple Leafs lamp and settled in for a good old session with James.
James Bond: A Man Like None Other
The Bond books provided great escapism, as he shot and gambled his way around the world. He went to the casinos in the south of France. He skied in Europe. He went scuba diving in the Bahamas. He chased criminals in Russia. Women quivered and men shivered at a steely look from his cold, assassin-like eyes. He drove an Aston Martin, a car we didn’t even see on the streets of Toronto. He used the lethal combination of a Walther PPK pistol and his brain as primary weapons. He slept on silk sheets, not sugar sacks.
Comparing this character’s lifestyle to the working-class neighbourhood of west-end Toronto that I called home was something I could only dream about.
His fight was always with good and evil and there was almost always a good-looking femme fatale in the dark corner, and an equally beautiful friendly agent covering his back. By the end of the book, James had usually made love to them both.
I started reading about nine-ish and, when I reached the halfway point, just like James at the gambling tables, I decided to go “all in” and finish the book. It was a school night and I probably would have gotten in trouble if my parents had checked on me, but they didn’t, and sometime after midnight, I polished off the book.
Unlike James, I don’t like vodka martinis, shaken or stirred. He taught me that class is not something you attend from 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. on a school day. I have never needed a tuxedo, but I did learn that European and Caribbean casinos are much more sophisticated because of their elegant dress codes, than the T-shirt and shorts crowd of North American casinos. I even lugged a jacket, tie and dress pants with me through Europe, on my honeymoon during the summer of 1981, in the hopes that we would go to a casino in the south of France. We did.
I think, most of all, Mr. Bond instilled in me a desire to see and experience these exotic places. Places that were so completely out of reach for a kid like me. Travel seemed unattainable and I could live vicariously through James. He helped me want to experience something different and unusual, and for that, I thank James.
Next, check out another Bond aficionado’s ranking of all the James Bond books—from worst to best.